May 12, 1942.
From: The Commanding Officer. To: Commander Task Force Seventeen. Subject: Engagement with Enemy (Japanese) Carrier Aircraft on May 8, 1942, in Coral Sea - report of. References: (a) U.S. Navy Regulations Article 874(6) and Article 712. (b) U.S. Navy Regulations Article 948. Enclosures: (A) Sketch of Battle. (B) Report of Executive Officer dated May 12, 1942.
- In compliance with reference (a) the following report of the subject action is submitted herewith:
- TACTICAL SITUATION
At 0800 the Portland was operating as a unit of Task Group 17.2 in accordance with the organization outlined in C.T.F. 17 Operation Order 2-42.Task Groups present were in Disposition "V" on axis 305 T. Fleet course was 125 T and fleet speed was 14 knots. Circle spacing was 1000 yards. Portland was on station 3220. 0.T.C., (Commander Task Force 17), and guide were in the Yorktown on station 1500 yards bearing 270 relative from the fleet axis. The bearing and distance of the guide from this vessel were 315 T and 2300 yards. The geographical position was Latitude 14-40-00 S., Longitude 155-00-00 E. The wind was E.S.E., 15 knots; sky was clear with 20 percent cumulus; the sea was slight with moderate swell from E.S.E. Ships were zig-zagging in accordance with plan #7.
- PRELIMINARY ACTION
The Yorktown and Lexington had launched carrier scouts shortly after daylight; and prior to the attack, from about 0856 to 0917, both carriers launched their attack groups to attack two enemy carriers which the scouts had reported sighting about 175 miles to the northward, off the eastern end of Louisaide Archipelago. Our carrier attack groups reported reaching their objectives and making their attack at about 1045. They had previously reported that the enemy carrier aircraft were headed South to attack our ships. At 0945 all ships of this Force went to General Quarters on signal from the Force Commander. At 1059 radar contact was made, with many planes bearing 020, distance 68 miles. Subsequent contacts revealed planes to be coming in at about 250 knots and 10,000 feet altitude.
- CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER OF EVENTS
0800 - Ship was in the process of securing from General Quarters and setting Condition of Readiness III (Modified to include the entire A.A. Battery and all automatic weapons fully manned) 0821 - Shifted ship's control from Conning Tower to Pilot House. 0844 - Received a signal from Commander Task Force 17 that two enemy aircraft carriers were bearing 006 T, distant 120 miles. 0850 - Ceased zig-zagging. Steered courses and made necessary speeds to maintain station on the guide during our carrier aircraft operations. 0855 - Received a signal from Task Force Commander that two enemy aircraft carriers were located bearing 028 T, distant 175 miles from this force. 0917- Resumed fleet course, 125 T. 0924- Resumed fleet speed, 14 knots. 0929 - Commander Task Group 17.5 assumed tactical command of the force, as directed by the Task Force Commander. 0935 - Yorktown signaled that radar contact had been made on strange aircraft bearing 020 T, distant 39 miles from this force. 0943 - General Quarters - Manned all battle stations - Shifted ship's control to the Conning Tower. 0946 - Yorktown signaled that radar contact had been made on strange aircraft bearing 340 T. 1007 - Received a signal from Commander Task Force 17 that enemy planes were sighted on bearing 040 T from this force. 1012 - Received a signal from Commander Task Force 17 to be on the alert for an aircraft attack, which was expected shortly.
1017 - Sighted smoke and flames on the horizon bearing 020 T, later identified as enemy sea plane. 1030 - On signal from O.T.C., changed course by turn movement to 028 T and speed to 15 knots. 1034 - Energized degaussing system. 1058 - By signal, O.T.C. designated Yorktown as fleet guide. 1059 - Received information by voice circuit that enemy planes were 68 miles distant bearing 020 T from this force. 1106 - Received information by voice circuit that enemy planes were 32 miles distant bearing 020 T from this force. 1108 - Report received over voice circuit that enemy planes were 22 miles distant and closing. 1111 - On signal from 0.T.C., changed course by turn movement to 125 T and fleet speed to 20 knots. 1113 - Enemy torpedo planes reported in sight. 1117 - Enemy torpedo planes launched attack against Lexington. 1119 - Commenced firing. From this period on until end of engageement maneuvered radically to maintain station and to dodge torpedo and bomb attacks, maneuvering and firing as described in the following paragraph ("ATTACK"). 1120 - On signa1 from. O.T.C., changed speed to 25 knots. 1120 - Began making radical changes of course and increased speed to 30 knots to maintain station on the guide. 1121 - Heavy smoke was seen rising from the flight deck, forward on the Lexington.
1140 - Last shot fired by this vessel. 1148 - Engagement ended.
- THE ATTACK
At 1114 a large group of Japanese torpedo planes were sighted approaching the Lexington's port beam. The Task Force course at that time was 125 T, range and bearing of Lexington from this ship was 4000 yards and 230 relative. The engagement started at 1117. Enemy planes approached the Lexington in a steep glide, leveling off from about 50 to 200 feet, scoring three (3) torpedo hits (estimated) and retiring on the attacking course. The Lexington, when hit, was observed to veer off to the left with flames issuing from her hangar deck. The Yorktown and ships near her turned to starboard with hard rudder to avoid torpedo planes which were coming in on the attack from a position on her port beam. This turn of some 120 degrees brought the Portland's starboard batteries to bear on the incoming planes. They were taken under fire by two (2) 5"/25 caliber guns (#1 and #3), 1.10/75 caliber mounts #1 and #3 and the starboard after 20 mm guns. These guns continued firing locally at a mean slant range of about 3000 yards, until the range was fouled by the Yorktown, whose relative bearing started about 190 degrees and changed to about 080 degrees, relative, range about 1500 yards. All fire, except that on one torpedo plane approaching the Yorktown, was generally without damaging effect, inasmuch as lead-offs were too small and planes were out of effective range. However, the heavy volume of fire was apparently disconcerting to the pilots who released torpedoes against the Yorktown considerably earlier than they did against the Lexington. One torpedo plane was hit by Portland's 1.10/75 cal., mount #3, and crashed.
The second phase began about 1120 when on course 245, at which time the Yorktown, still a primary objective, bore about 070 relative from this vessel. Enemy torpedo planes making radical left turns attacked the Yorktown from forward of her starboard beam and enemy dive bombers began peeling off at about 6000 feet altitude, diving on Yorktown from ahead in about sixty degree dives. Portland 1.10/75 cal. mounts #l and #3, shifted fire from torpedo planes on the quarter to those on the starboard bow; but this fire was quickly discontinued because it was
endangering the Yorktown. The slant range was approximately 3000 yards. Mount #l and starboard forward 20 mm machine guns took the dive bombers under fire and continued firing until the last of about ten or twelve planes, diving in succession about twenty seconds apart, pulled out of their dives. This fire although generally lagging due to insufficient lead-off, is considered to have had a disconcerting effect upon the bomber pilots whose bombing appeared wild and several of whose releases appeared to be too early. Slant range to dive bombers was about 3500 yards.
The third phase constituted uncoordinated attacks and subsequent retirements by dive bombers, not in groups, but singly from several directions. During this phase two dive bombers on our port bow apparently diving at the Portland, or possibly the Yorktown on our starboard side, were seen to turn away when engaged by 1.10 mount #2 and four 20 mm machine guns of the port battery. Both of these planes were obviously hit and seen to be smoking as they passed this vessel.
Two retiring planes, altitude 4000 feet, on opposite course to us were engaged successively by the port 5"/25 cal. battery in director fire when on the beam; but the fire was not damaging because of last minute radical changes of course by the planes.
Toward the end of the engagement, one enemy torpedo plane made a low level approach on the Portland on port bow. At this moment the Russell was almost directly ahead about 1500 yards. The approaching plane was taken under fire both by the Russell and the forward port 20 mm guns of this ship, and was seen to be hit and plunge into the sea near the Russell. It is felt that it was the fire from the Russell which brought down this plane.
The Main Battery was loaded and prepared to fire an anti-torpedo barrage but had no opportunity to fire. Its only target might have been the low flying torpedo plane mentioned above, but the Russell was in that direction and successfully destroyed that plane.
The engagement ended at about 1148 and there was no subsequent renewal of the action. Within sight of this ship 9 enemy planes were observed downed within the force.
Ammunition expenditure was as follows:
Rounds Percentage of Allowance 5"/25 cal 185 7.7 1.10/75 cal. 1399 3.5 20 mm 2400 6.7
Complete replacement of ammunition was effected within ten minutes, of the end of the engagement.
The ship suffered no personnel casualties and no material casualties except for a ruptured barrel in 1.10/75 cal. #4 mount, which did no harm to personnel and did not render the mount unserviceable. All water in the circulating tank was pumped out through this barrel but fresh water was turned on and kept running into the tank constantly. This provided adequate cooling.
- C0MMENTS AND 0BSERVATI0NS
- Very few enemy planes approached within effective range of the short range weapons of this vessel. As a result, most or the firing was conducted at ranges beyond the tracer burnout point.
- All 20 mm firing was accomplished by use of the ring sight, and all 1.10 mounts were fired by use of sights, with gun captains applying own spots. Due to excessive ranges at which most firing was conducted, it was apparent that, in general, insufficient lead-off was being used.
- Despite the fact that few hits could be expected beyond the effective range of these weapons it is felt that their use on any plane within maximum range should be employed, particularly when the attack is being concentrated on another vessel. Under such conditions ammunition supply presents no problem, and the fire may assist in turning the attack. In several instances, planes which were starting attacks on both
the Yorktown and the Lexington were seen to turn off when our fire came close to them.
- Fire on the few targets that approached within effective range was well controlled. The few planes that obviously were launching attacks at this vessel turned off prematurely as the fire grew close to them. The pilots apparently were not pressing their attacks home, on minor targets, with the determination that was evident in their attacks on the carriers.
- No difficulty was experienced by the pointers in keeping on the target while using the sights, in either 20 mm or 1.10 batteries. No wild shooting was observed. Even when pointing at distant dive bombers the gunners followed them down without difficulty. This bears out the belief held on this vessel that the use of sights on both batteries is practicable under battle conditions.
- Ammunition supply presented no problem in either the 20 mm or 1.10 batteries. Replacement and refilling of clips and magazines was easily maintained. Despite the fact that fire was maintained on every available target within range, the expenditure of ammunition was surprisingly small. The 20 mm clipping parties were never over two magazines behind, and the allowance of 8 magazines per gun for this battery was more than adequate. However, it is felt that should a concentrated attack be launched at this vessel, the allowance of 15 magazines per 20 mm gun should be made available to provide for all contingencies.
- The cruiser gunnery doctrine provides for locally controlled barrages against torpedo planes, strafing planes, and dive bombers that attack own ship, and for director-controlled fire where usable, as in the case of high altitude bombing attack. It does not provide for protection of a carrier by fire from units of a screening force. In the subject engagement, the inboard 5"/25 cal. batteries of the cruisers could not use director-controlled fire on the types of attack being delivered; and the various individual barrages noted in this action were wholly ineffective. It is suggested that a doctrine should be developed for employment of 5"/25 Cal. batteries of screening vessels that would provide more adequate protection for the vessel screened. A director-controlled barrage just below the
anticipated or observed altitude of the start of the dive, and placed just beyond the carrier in assigned sectors, could be provided by the inboard batteries of the screen, and would afford considerable protection against dive bombing attack on the screened vessel.
- Defense of own ship, while employed in a protective screen for a carrier, should be a secondary consideration when the attack is primarily against the carrier, main reliance being placed on the short range weapons while the 5"/25 cal. battery is being employed in defense of the carrier.
- SHIP CONTR0L
The ship was conned by the Captain and Navigator, who were stationed on the catwalk around the Conning Tower. The ship's aviators were stationed on the bridge deck to advise the Captain, below, of impending air attacks, but this scheme it is believed, would have merit only in case of high level bombing. The ship's course was continuously swung through large angles, from side to side, at the same time maintaining approximate position on the Yorktown. Apparently this weaving from side to side proved effective in increasing the difficulty of hitting. Many bombs were seen to miss the Yorktown which was weaving from side to side in a similar fashion.
During the waiting period from General Quarters until the attack developed, all hands appeared calm, confident, and in excellent spirits; and during the battle their elan was splendid even though the sight of belching smoke on the Lexington and the Yorktown indicated that they had suffered damage.
- The Commanding Officer highly commends all officers and men on board for their successful battle conduct and efficiency. No one person can be singled out for greater commendation than another, except that the batteries that actually shot down or damaged enemy planes, should be so honored. These were the crews of 1.10 mounts #2 and #3 and 20 mm guns #2, #4, #6, and #8.
- The report of the Executive Officer required by reference (b) is forwarded herewith as Enc1osure (B).
CincPac (Special original & 1 copy-via Force Comdr.)
May 12, 1942.
From: The Executive Officer. To: The Commanding Officer, U.S.S. Portland. Subject: Air Attack by Enemy Carrier Planes - Coral Sea, May 8, 1942 - Report on. References: (a) U.S. Navy Regulations, para. 712. (b) U.S. Navy Regulations, 874(6). (c) Pacific Fleet ltr. 16CL-42. (d) Pacific Fleet ltr. 11L-42. (e) OpNav-Cominch joint ltr, serial 291 dated February 22,1942. (f) ComTaskFor 17 operation order #2-42 dated May 1, 1942. (g) CinCPac restricted desp. 120611 dated March 1942.
- GENERAL INFORMATION
The Portland, on May 8, 1942, with Task Force SEVENTEEN was conducting operations against the enemy in the northern Coral Sea, in accordance with reference (f). Ships present were: Yorktown, Lexington, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Astoria, Chester, Portland, Phelps, Dewey, Farragut, Aylwin, Morris, Anderson, Hammann and Russell.
The geographical position at the time of the attack was: Latitude 15-30 south, Longitude 155-30 east. This force at the time of the attack was in cruising disposition Victor, fleet axis 395° true; fleet speed 15 knots. Portland position on circle three and 220° right of axis.
The wind was 16 knots from ESE. Sea - light with moderate swell, blue sky with few detached clouds - visibility unlimited, barometer - 29.95, temperature - 81°.
- GENERAL CONDITION PRIOR ATTACK
The ship was at General Quarters from 0620, and in material condition Zed. During early forenoon Condition One in the A.A. battery was set, with other personnel at ease on station. The ship went to General Quarters again at 1010. At 0800 the geographical position was Latitude 14-25 south, Longitude 154-28 east. At 0840 report was received from ComTaskFor 17 that two enemy aircraft carriers and four cruisers were located bearing 028° true, distant 175 miles. The formation maneuvered on northerly to easterly courses during forenoon, and both carriers launched attack and combat air patrols. At 1012 a signal was
received to be on the alert as an enemy air attack was imminent. At 1015 a large column of white smoke was sighted on the horizon bearing 020° true, later identified as an enemy sea plane shot down by our fighters. At 1039, ships were in formation Victor. At 1106, enemy planes were reported bearing 020° true, 10,000 feet altitude, distant 35 miles. Force changed course to 125° true, speed 25 knots as enemy planes were now reported closed to 22 miles.
- THE ATTACK
At 1117 the first enemy aircraft began the attack, directed at both of our carriers. Speed was increased to 30 knots and this ship maneuvered to conform to movements of the Yorktown. In this first attack wave the enemy planes came down one close behind the other at both targets simultaneously from cover of a small cloud bank. The planes were in their dive when first sighted. It was difficult to distinguish torpedo planes from bombers until near release point as both planes launched attack from approxomately a 50° - 60° angle dive. The torpedo planes levelled off slightly before releasing at what appeared to be 200 feet.
One enemy plane was on fire and fell into the sea ahead of the Yorktown. All ships opened a heavy anti-aircraft fire ring around both carriers. In spite of this intense fire some of the enemy were able to penetrate to their targets.
The dive bombers followed the torpedo planes and a hit was observed on the port side of the Lexington followed by heavy smoke and flames spreading up the port side amidships. During the latter part of the battle the visibility conditions due to gunfire and smoke, were such as to make observations of the attacks on the Lexington very obscure.
I counted five misses on the port side of the Yorktown.
The formation turned away (to starboard) from the first attack and immediately the second wave of dive bombers and torpedo planes attacked the Yorktown from the right of the sun and from ahead of the Yorktown. At this point, due to radical maneuvers the Yorktown and Lexington were well separated. I believe the defensive action by gunfire from this point on showed considerable improvement as the attacking planes were more easily sighted and concentrated on without the feeling of uncertainty of which attacking plane was headed for the Yorktown;
also the attention of lookouts, gun crews and spotters was concentrated in our own defensive fire zone without distraction due to hits and explosions on other nearby targets.
Two enemy planes, believed to be bombers, attempted to attack the Portland from the port beam, but were driven off by heavy A.A. fire. It is believed from observation of the tracers that both these planes received damage from our port 20 m.m. mounts 2-4-6-8 and 1.1 #2 mount.
An enemy bomber, which had completed its attack on the Yorktown turned away toward our stern and was heavily fired on by us. This plane was hit by 1.1 #3 mount and was seen by several observers to fall into the sea.
At least four planes attempted to strafe the Portland but missed us. I noted about five splashes, from 100 to 200 yards, on both sides of the ship, which I believe were small bombs of 50 to 100 lbs. Two torpedo planes were sighted approaching the Portland, at low altitude, on our starboard bow. The rear plane was attacked by one fighter and was seen to zoom up to the right and then appeared to fall into the sea. The fighter then attacked the leading enemy plane by diving and firing a burst and then withdrew. The enemy plane appeared to be hit and losing altitude and headed across the starboard bow of the Russell. The Russell shot this plane down. Portland could not fire at these planes as the Russell was in the line of fire.
The personnel of Battle II and other observers agree that eight enemy planes were observed to be shot down. I observed two on our starboard bow, and one that crashed in flames ahead of the Yorktown, and one ahead of the Lexington.
This ship sustained no damage from the attack. One barrel of #4 - 1.1 mount suffered a ruptured muzzle early in the battle. There were no other material casualties. No personnel injuries were received.
This was the first baptism of fire experienced by most of
the officers and crew of the Portland. All hands remained cool and steady waiting for the attack. The crew gave a mighty cheer when the first Japanese plane crashed in flames. Throughout the battle all personnel observed were eager for combat and functioned to the best of their ability. Many of our 20 m.m. and 1.1 crews were recruits of five months naval service.
I have nothing but praise for our officers and men for their splendid conduct in battle.
- RECOMMENDATION FOR AWARDS
In accordance with the provisions of CinCPac des. reference (g), the following gun crews will be recommended for letters of commendation by a separate letter:
- Gun Captain and Crew of -
#3 - 1.1 mount - for destroying one enemy plane.
- Gun Captain and Crews of -
#2 - 1.1 mount - #2-4-6-8, 20 m.m. mounts - for damaging and driving off two enemy bombers.
Commander, U.S. Navy.
Last updated: January 30, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation